Garry Dog salmon fly

Garry Dog: Born on the Tweed

THE TALE of Garry, the cross retriever of Borders’ minister Denholm Fraser, who give birth to one of the world’s best known salmon flies, continues to attract interest.

Following my chance encounter with the Rev Fraser’s grandson and publication here of a photograph of Garry himself,  BBC broadcaster Mark Stephen got in touch for a chat to talk about how the little village of Sprouston on the Tweed, just outside Kelso, rose to fame in the annals of salmon fishing.

Garry Dog - memorial plaque

Garry Dog - memorial plaque

I met Mark recently at Sprouston church, where a plaque on the walls of the manse, now records for posterity, Garry’s celebrated role in the creation of the Garry Dog.

If anyone knows who S. M. Fielding is, please let me know.

Mark had previously recorded a programme about the Rev Fraser, who was minister at Sprouston for more than 30 years from 1903 and how his church came to be known as the Sweet Pea Kirk.  And he wanted to expand on the celebrity status of the church and the Fraser family.

It was a fine autumn morning and rising fish and keen anglers were to be seen in considerable numbers as we stood on the riverside, just below the old manse itself.

Our short conversation was recorded for the BBC Radio Scotland programme Past Lives broadcast today (Series 15, Episode 6).

A Garry Dog was the first salmon fly I ever cast – on the Tweed as it happens.  It was not successful that day, I regret. And it has remained barren for me ever since.

Tweed ghillie Kenny Jack, who has just retired after 38 years at neighbouring Hendersyde told me recently the Garry Dog had slipped from popularity on the river in favour of more modern dressings like Ally Gowan’s Shrimps and Cascades.  It does, however, remain popular in Ireland and elsewhere, though the pattern has evolved somewhat in the last 90 years or so.

When it was first dressed by John Wright in the 1920s, the Garry Dog (also known as Yellow Dog, Minister’s Dog and simply Garry) was in the vanguard of the emerging style of more sparse hair-wing flies, compared with their elaborate Victorian predecessors. Wright was the son of the ghillie who created the famous Greenwell’s Glory.

Photographs of the fly as owned by the Rev Fraser’s daughter Doreen, in the 1950s and those of today, show how these styles have evolved. And perhaps it is not too fanciful to suggest that fly dressings have a more than a passing reference to human fashions of the times.

Garry Dog - then and now

Garry Dog (left) in 1950s style and more modern variants

 Related Stories:

Garry – the fly-tyer revealed

The real story of Garry, the minister’s dog